Thursday, 15 JUL 2010
I think we might have seen more of Norway in this one day than we had seen the whole trip up to this point! Today was “Norway in a Nutshell,” a series of well-organized and spectacular bus, train, and ferry connections that took us into two offshoots of the Sognefjord, the Aurlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord.
Our day started pretty early in Bergen. Mom had arranged for our luggage to be picked up at the hotel and delivered to our hotel in Oslo that evening so we wouldn’t have to contend with most of it during the transfers on our journey. This ended up working pretty well and was a great service!
Since Norway in a Nutshell is just a series of public transportation connections, there was no official tour or guide. Luckily, Rick Steves came to the rescue and had a Self-Guided Tour narrated from Oslo to Bergen. Since we were going the other way, we were instructed to “hold the book upside down.” (I love this about the Rick Steves’ guidebooks, while Brandon thinks it’s cheesy!)
So, the first step in our journey was a train from Bergen to Voss. This was not the most exciting segment of the trip (I didn’t take a single picture!), but that was OK since the weather wasn’t the best either.
Next, we took a bus from Voss to Gudvangen. Again, the weather put a damper on the scenery, but we passed the wide and tumbling Tvindefossen waterfall before driving along the Nærøydal Canyon. At the top of the road was the Stalheim Hotel with our first views of fjord country. We then proceeded down into the valley on the Stalheimskleiva road, 13 steep hairpin bends flanked by the Stalheimsfossen and Sivlefossen waterfalls.
Tvindefossen Waterfall along the bus ride from Voss to Gudvangen. Note the rain on the bus window!
Switchbacks along the Stalheimskleiva road down into Nærøydal.
After about an hour on the bus, we arrived at the boat dock in Gudvangen for the next segment of our journey. The state-run ferry begins at the apex of the Nærøydalfyord (“Narrow Fjord”), the world’s narrowest fjord at six miles long and as little as 820 feet wide and 40 feet deep. Then the boat “hung a right” to cruise down the lovely Aurlandsfjord. Thankfully, the weather had started to improve by this time and it was more comfortable to be out on the deck of the boat. We passed the quaint towns of Undredal and Aurland before docking at Flåm, a scenic, functional transit hub at the far end of the Aurlandsfjord. Although the boat ride was cold and wet at the beginning, I think it was one of the highlights of the day. It was amazing and breathtaking to be surrounded by the waterfalls and tall cliffs of the fjords.
Brandon and I on the Gudvangen-Flåm Cruise.
Mom and Dad in front of one of the many waterfalls along the Gudvangen-Flåm Cruise.
Once in Flåm, it was time for lunch! Of course, Brandon instantly gravitated to the Ægir Brewery & Pub. The Viking-inspired brewpub didn’t have an extensive menu, but it was unique, including a delicious pizza with cranberries. We also had some time to just relax and browse the souvenir shops before catching the next part our journey.
Dad with a Norwegian Troll; Brandon seriously considered this souvenir. 🙂
The sun was shining brightly and it had turned into a beautiful day when we boarded the Flåmsbana, a scenic high-altitude train that winds for 12 miles through 20 tunnels in about 55 minutes. While I had enjoyed the cruise, this segment was definitely the most enjoyable part of the day! The scenery was absolutely amazing as we climbed from sea level to about 2800 feet. We ended up sitting next to a nice couple from Greensboro, NC, who had recently been to the opening of the EMFfringe series. We were instant friends! 🙂
The highlight of this segment was the Kjosfossen waterfall. The train stopped right beside it and let everyone off to take pictures. According to a Norwegian legend, a temptress lives behind the falls and tries to lure men to the rocks with her singing. Sure enough, she was there when our train stopped!
The Kjosfossen Temptress.
All of us in front of the Kjosfossen waterfall.
After enjoying some svela as an afternoon snack in Myrdal, we boarded the train to Oslo, our final transportation connection on Norway in a Nutshell. This was also our longest segment at about five hours. Honestly, by this time I was getting tired of traveling and probably didn’t appreciate the scenery as I should. Rick describes it as “the most spectacular train ride in northern Europe.” The entire railway (from Oslo to Bergen) was completed in 1909 and is 300 miles long; peaks at 4,266 feet; goes under 18 miles of snow shed; trundles over 300 bridges; and passes through 200 tunnels. From Myrdal, we were able to travel the longest high-mountain stretch of railway in Europe. Finse, at about 4000 feet, is the highest stop on the line. We did meet an interesting Chinese girl on the train, but that is a story for another time! After that, I think I slept the rest of the way to Oslo.
View from the Myrdal-Oslo Train.
Once we arrived in Oslo, we bought our tickets to get to the airport the next day and then went to find our hotel, Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel. Thankfully, the hotel was pretty close to the train station because we ended up going back when we discovered that Brandon’s souvenir glasses & beer from the Ægir Brewery had been left on top of the airport ticket machine. Unfortunately, it was already gone. It was a rather disappointing way to end an otherwise memorable day traveling across Norway. Even with the questionable weather at the beginning of the day, the journey was filled with spectacular scenery. Norway in a Nutshell truly deserved the “Don’t Miss” rating it received from Rick Steves!!